"This is the path I was always meant to take," says my mother. Her lips snap shut like a change purse; what she has said is final. My mom has replaced Steve's atheism with her own blend of metaphysics. She's learned about reiki, reincarnation, and yoga. She will look for Steve in her first grandchild and has told me that she has "left her grief" on the red rocks of Sedona, where she meditated for an hour. She is hard on herself.
Steve's disembodied voice is on the answering machine. His polo shirts and shorts are folded away in dresser drawers. His sons wear his watch and tool belt. The tires on his truck rot in the driveway. My mother has overseen every renovation she and Steve had planned for their new home. She is there as they put in the laundry room, construct a guest house, install a walkway, plant a garden. She pretends that she can make a deal—finish everything they had started, and he will never leave her.
One year ago my mother held her knees to her chest and hid beneath a blanket on the hospital room tile. She muttered to herself, stifled a scream, and tried her best to shut out the image of Steve's cold body on the bed. The decision was made, he'd be taken off of life support. At my mother's request, each of us did our best to ease the wedding band from his swollen finger.
Most people do not put their hands to their throats when they are choking. Not all are rescued. Some, like Steve, slump over at the dinner table, their extremities already losing feeling, their eyes blackening as they struggle to find their breath. They lose control of their bowels or bladders. Sometimes they vomit, in an attempt to dislodge what is stuck in their trachea, and it leaves a stain on the floor. Some choking victims leave their wives feeling like it was their fault, like they should have been more vigilant, like they could have done something more.
If Steve were still here he and my mom would laugh over their memories of Catholic school. They would walk the dogs and go to Irish pubs and make love and sit on the deck drinking wine. They would keep their debts from each other, hide the tragedies of their previous marriages. Tell each other gentle lies because they are in love. If he were still here, the afterlife would stay a mystery and metaphysics would linger behind its beaded curtain, trapped in its crystal ball. Death would remain speculative, not the consuming reality that my mom struggles daily to forget.
She's glimpsed his face in the bathroom tile, felt him in a breeze. She looks for him in light patterns and reflections. She believes, despite all reason, that he might still walk through the front door each evening. She is training herself to stay present in every moment—every stretch, every bend of her body—deliberate. She can heal others' aches with the warmth of her hands. She is on the path of spiritual enlightenment and this is how she will find Steve again. On this path, she can dream they meet. That's easier than walking through her garden, imagining her husband where there is only a handful of ashes buried beneath the magnolia tree. Where her Steve is only in the soil, his name only on a stone.